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Tourism Processes and Gender Relations

Tourism processes, as this article argues, like other processes and relations in society are gendered. The gender bias is built into the discourse of tourism practices, images, and activities, which, by and large, privileges the male viewpoint. Researchers, academics and social activists have questioned the hegemonic male view of tourism at different levels, although their voices are still weak. In light of the fact that tourism processes are expanding rapidly in the globalising world, there is a need to strengthen these voices, both at the local and global levels. For a start, the agenda of women's movements everywhere must include the demand for greater participation of local people in tourism planning and development, especially if rights and interests of people in tourist destinations in the third world are to be protected. Only then can they share equitably in the benefits that result from tourism.

Tourism Processes and Gender Relations

Issues for Exploration and Intervention

Tourism processes, as this article argues, like other processes and relations in society are gendered. The gender bias is built into the discourse of tourism practices, images, and activities, which, by and large, privileges the male viewpoint. Researchers, academics and social activists have questioned the hegemonic male view of tourism at different levels, although their voices are still weak. In light of the fact that tourism processes are expanding rapidly in the globalising world, there is a need to strengthen these voices, both at the local and global levels. For a start, the agenda of women’s movements everywhere must include the demand for greater participation of local people in tourism planning and development, especially if rights and interests of people in tourist destinations in the third world are to be protected. Only then can they share equitably in the benefits that result from tourism.


ourism and its multiple dimensions, although a relatively unexplored area of academic interest in India, is by now a well established field of social science research in Europe and America. However, in the fast growing literature on tourism, one is struck by the paucity of writing on issues related to tourism processes and gender relations. It is observed that there is a male bias in tourism research which subsumes distinct female experience and behaviour of tourism and tourism related activity in the dominant male experience. Whereas in reality, Wearing and Wearing point out, “ Gendered tourists, gendered hosts, gendered tourism marketing and gendered tourism objects each reveal power differences between women and men which privilege male view and which have significant impacts on tourism image and promotion” [quoted from Pritchard and Morgan 2000:885].

This perspective, although largely neglected, is crucial to an understanding of tourism processes, according to Kinnaird et al (1994) in the light of the following. First, that tourism is constructed out of gendered societies and therefore all aspects of tourism related development and activity embody gender relations. Second, gender relations both inform, and are informed, socially, in diverse and complex ways. And economic, political, social, cultural and environmental relations are all part of the process of tourism development. Tourism is not separate from them but engages all of them. Third, since tourism-related activity has become an important part of development, the social, economic and political relations which result are part of the overall relations of power and control, which can be articulated through race, class and gender [Kinnaird et al, 1994: 5].

However, one of the issues explored in tourism writings relates to the gendered character of employment patterns resulting from tourism. It is clear that there are differences in the nature and type of tourism generated employment that is available to men and women. And this, of course, has significant social consequences. Although inadequate, attention has also been paid more specifically to the growth of sex tourism which has turned certain destinations into “pleasure peripheries”. A much less researched area is the gendered nature of tourism images and experiences. It has been suggested that, there is a interrelationship between the language of patriarchy and heterosexuality and the language of tourism promotion.

I propose to focus specifically on these issues within the context of gender, tourism and development. The paper will highlight the gendered nature of tourism processes, production and consumption of tourism experiences, in the context of power relations and dominant partiarchal values within societies and between nations, the developed and the developing. The analysis will throw up issues which are significant to understand gender inequalities in tourism processes, which require special critical attention from academics, planners and policy-makers, and political organisations, as well as open up hitherto neglected areas for intervention by women’s groups. I will illustrate the issues with reference to Goa, a major tourist destination in India.

Significance of Tourism in Modern Times

To define a highly complex phenomenon simply, tourism is essentially a leisure time activity, involving some movement, a journey and a period of stay in a new place/places. To be a tourist, as Urry observes, “is one of the characteristics of the ‘modern’ experience. Not to ‘go away’ is like not possessing a car or a nice house. It is a marker of status in modern societies and is also thought to be necessary to health” [Urry 1990: 4].

The difference between pre-modern travel and modern tourism is spelt out by Ning Wang: first, whereas in the past tourism was a luxury, available only to elite group, in modernity and late modernity, tourism is a mass consumption. Second, in today’s society, there is a massive social organisation or a “tourism production system”. Commodification of tourism is part of overall capitalist commodification. Third, while pre-modern travel was an occasional event, modern tourism is a mass phenomenon, an institution, “an institutionalised leisure and consumer activity characterised by pleasure seeking” (2000: 13-14).

It is said to be the “largest peace time movement of people”. Statistics provided by the World Tourism Organisation show a remarkable increase in the number of international travellers from 25 million in 1950 to 425 million in 1990. Since the second world war, the growth of tourism industry and its promotion by international financial organisations as an agent of economic development and change has been unprecedented. As the largest industry in the world, it obviously holds a very influential position in the world economy. In 1994, international tourism produced approximately $ 3.5 trillion in gross output (6.1 per cent of global GDP) and employed close to 130 million people, 6.8 per cent of workers worldwide. For the same year, the tourism industry accounted for 12.3 per cent of consumer expense, absorbed 75 per cent of the total capital investment, and paid almost 6 per cent of total tax payments [Apostolopoulous1996: 1-2]. It represents 7 per cent of all world exports [Kinnaird et al, op cit: 2]. In addition to developments in the international tourism market, domestic/national tourism is also increasing rapidly partly due to the prevalence of increased leisure time and affluence, as well as the encouragement of tourism in regions seeking to develop their economies. Overall, tourism has witnessed tremendous growth as a result of increasing affluence in the last half century, more leisure time and disposable income, development of better communication system, information technology, and a culture of travel.

Modern tourism industry is international in character and becoming increasingly so with rapid globalisation. The system hinges on a group of national and transnational corporate actors and governmental and inter-governmental agencies, such as hotel chains, airlines, travel companies, travel agencies, tour operators and international travel organisations [Cohen 1996: 59]. In another sense, too, tourism is increasingly globalised. “With touristic consumerism expanding worldwide and tourists travelling further afield” , Wang observes, “various people, nations, and places are becoming involved in this touristic globalisation and being exposed to its positive and negative consequences. No longer can a culture or a people remain insulated” [Wang, op cit: 2]. Almost every cultural object or site can be turned into a tourist attraction as more and more regions come within the orbit of tourism, especially international tourism. There is already speculation about tourism in space.

Tourism and Development

During the 1960s tourism was, and continues to be, considered “a passport to development”, for the underdeveloped countries. It was seen as a “soft” development alternative for stimulating economic growth. Through foreign exchange earnings and creation of employment, tourism could provide an opportunity for people of poorer countries to increase their income and standard of living. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) spoke of the almost limitless growth potential in tourism. Both the World Bank and the United Nations promoted tourist industries in developing countries. The UN declared 1967 to be the International Tourism Year. Tourism was presented as an easy option for development because it relied largely on the national resources already present – sand, sun, friendly people – and required no vast capital investment. A number of developing countries embarked upon tourism without giving adequate attention to its long-term consequences.

Although since the boom of the 1960s, views about the negative social, cultural and environmental effects of tourism have been expressed, the enthusiasm of the developing countries continues to be high. There exists a substantial body of literature which highlights the adverse socio-cultural consequences of tourism.

Even its economic benefits have come under doubt. Scholars have realised that tourism is not a secure growth industry. It is prone to seasonal fluctuations and is unpredictable precisely because it is dependent upon a wide variety of factors, at the international level, upon which the destination countries have little control. Given the nature of inclusive package holidays where payment is made in advance, the destination countries do not earn much foreign exchange [Crick 1996: 21-23]. It has proved to be more capital-intensive than predicted, nor has employment been stimulated to the degree expected. The profits go to the elites, the wealthy and the influential, at the local as well as the global levels.

A deeper structural criticism of modern tourism comes from dependency and world system theorists. With the growth of modern tourism establishment into an international complex of airlines, hotels, travel agencies, transport companies and the like, there is allegedly an increasing domination by the centre (from industrial countries where the tourists originate), of the periphery (the less developed destinations). “Thus, a dependency syndrome emerges. Tourism becomes identified as a form of imperialism or of metropolitan dominance in a neo-colonial setting in which the natives particularly the third world countries are systematically exploited” [Dann and Cohen 1996: 308]. Tourism is thus seen as a mechanism which incorporates the poor, developing countries into an essentially exploitative global economic order.

Given that tourism processes are constructed, promoted and consumed in the hierarchical, unequal, global and national systems, women and men experience tourism and are affected by it very differently. Issues of class, race, gender shape and are shaped by tourism processes very differently at international and local levels. An illustration of this is provided by the gendered pattern of employment generated by tourism (both international and domestic) in the developing countries especially with respect to sex tourism. I will deal with them in the following sections.

Employment and the Gender Bias

One of the major benefits of tourism is believed to be generation of employment for the local people in the tourist destinations. While this is widely accepted as true, there is less awareness, however, of a gender bias in the nature of employment available to men and women. Studies have shown that there are gender differences in the type of work, the seasonality of employment, wage structure and so on. In most instances tourism reinforces the old division of labour although in some cases a new division of labour is also created.

In the hotel and catering industry in Britain, for example, gender stereotyping and sex segregation at different levels of employment activity is evident. “Women work as counter and kitchen staff, domestic and cleaners, while men work as porters and stewards. Over 50 per cent of men employed in the industry are in a professional, managerial and supervisory occupation.” [Kinnaird et al op cit: 16]. A distinct gender division is reported by scholars in the form and extent of flexibility in working practices. It is more common for men to have jobs which involve “functional flexibility”. The “operative positions” of cooks, waiting and bar staff, kitchen hands, domestic staff and cleaners are overwhelmingly filled by women, majority of them as part-time employees. They do not have the opportunity to develop a wide range of skills and experience to become functionally flexible as full time employees who are more likely to be males [Urry 1990: 80].

Case studies from other regions have also found women to be employed in less stable, lower paid and lower status jobs. Low skilled jobs are seen as good opportunities for women and ethnic minorities. Sexist and racist social ideologies as well as existing social stratification systems are found to be reinforced by tourism services [Kinnaird et al op cit:17]. Data from northern Cyprus, for example, suggests that pressure from family and husband may restrict the choice of jobs by women. For example, there is a preference for reception work, housekeeping and cleaning rather than work at the bar, as waitress or tour guide. Female participation in business in family run hotels and guest houses is acceptable since “it occurs within the protection of the family environment [Scott 1995: 395-96].

Evidence from Goa,1 India, also suggests that in general the low skilled and wage jobs are occupied mostly by women particularly in hotels. A number of migrant girls from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are engaged in the sale of small handicraft items and as masseurs on the beaches. It is an important source of income for them. In addition, a number of Goan men and women run small shacks serving food and drinks on the beach. Women/families are also involved in keeping “bed and breakfast” tourists in their private homes, letting out rooms or a part of the house to tourists, preferably foreigners. The tourism department encourages people living in coastal areas to keep tourists as paying guests.

In most such instances, however, the old gender division of labour is not challenged, although clearly, chores like cooking, serving, cleaning, washing, which are unpaid household work of the traditional housewife, now become commercialised. Other studies also show that the “providers of commercialised hospitality within the private home are overwhelmingly female…with increasing male representation as establishments become larger, for example, small hotels.” Hosting at home is generally perceived as a gendered occupation [Lynch and MacWhannell 2000: 106].

An important element of hosting at home is the extension of unpaid household work to paid work within the home. The site of work associated with nurture and care for the family is transformed into one of commercial activity for a stranger, although the personal element does not disappear altogether. The fact that the tourist, the stranger, is also looking for a “home” and a “homely atmosphere” away from home, is significant but outside the scope of this paper. In her new role, the woman of the house continues to play, to differing degrees, the quintessential mother, cooking, feeding and looking after the “guest”.

The income from running a shack on the beach or hosting at home does enhance the financial and social position of the family, and the woman. I was informed that generally the income is spent on the family. “Even the tip given to the woman goes to the family. The family may invest the money in a car or a motor bike but not in a washing machine, which would make life easier for her.” At the same time, keeping guests at home or running a restaurant doubles the burden on the woman. While the husband works only in the restaurant, the wife takes care of the family, “cooks at home in the morning, and then in the restaurant, goes back home to do other chores, and returns to the restaurant to work till late at night”. Do women acquire control over the income from these activities or does it become a part of the family pool, do they experience other types of freedom as well, are questions that require closer examination. Different regions will show very different results, depending upon a variety of other factors like their overall social and economic standing in the family and community.

There are instances of enhancement of women’s independence, resulting from their incorporation into tourism generated employment. Evidence from Greece, Barabados, Mexico, Ireland and the Caribbean seems to support the above argument. While the traditional division of labour remains unchallenged and unaltered, the new opportunities do enable women’s labour to enter the public domain [Kinnaird et al op cit: 17]. This, of course, has other social consequences which must be further explored in tourism research. For example, tourism has resulted in greater economic autonomy and power for women in Mexico. The incidence for female headed households are found to be dominant in areas where tourism employment is available. Tourism developments in a region may well expand the range of choices and freedoms available to women, and therefore improve the quality of their lives.

In Goa, several persons reported that income from tourism has resulted in greater confidence and freedom for women, for instance “they go to restaurants, go out with friends and feel free”. Unlike Goan men who develop relationships with foreign women tourists just to be able to go abroad, women may develop contact with foreign men to be in an equal relationship.

Pleasure Periphery and Sex Tourism

Another way in which women are included in the tourism related labour force is sex tourism. The four “s” factors, i e, sun, sand, sea and sex have become associated with tourist resorts in general. Countries which utilise tourism as a strategy for development create a situation in which women’s sexuality is seen as an object of attraction for the male gaze, both domestic, but more so, foreign tourists. Parts of the world, especially the developing countries like Thailand, Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka have acquired the reputation of being the “pleasure periphery” for the developed tourism generating metropoles including Europe, the US, Japan, and others. The power relations between tourism generating and the destination countries, and unequal gender relations in both, is the context in which the increase in international sex tourism can be analysed. The pleasure seeking, adventurous male tourist from the affluent, developed countries and the stereotypical “submissive”, “feminine”, female from poor underdeveloped countries characterise the dominant trend in sex tourism of present times. Which is, of course, not to deny the existence of sex tourism between the developed, affluent countries.

Sex tourism, by and large, involves women [Shaw and Williams 1994: 90] although men are also a part of the business, as for instance the “beach boys” in Jamaica. White women are also known to look for sex partners when on vacations. This phenomenon exists in Goa as well. Young Goan men are known to engage in providing sexual service to women (and men) tourists on a commercial basis. It is suggested that some female tourists are able to use their economic power to “indulge their racialised sexual fantasies while away from home, imaging Goa as eroexotic” [Routledge 2002: 206]. In some destinations like Kenya, Gambia and several Caribbean islands, female sex tourists are said to be more prominent than their male counterparts. As women improve their social and economic position, one may expect more and more female tourists seeking sexual services from male prostitutes or call boys all over the world.

Significantly, however, Pruitt and La Font point out, the term “romance tourism” is used to distinguish these relationships from those of sex tourism. Here, the commercial character of sex tourism is hidden behind “the discourse of romance and longterm relationship, an emotional involvement usually not present in sex tourism”. And neither partner considers their interaction to be prostitution, although others may label it so. Emphasis is placed on courtship rather than the exchange of sex for money [Pruitt and La Font 1995: 423].

Pritchard and Morgan sum up the factors on which sex tourism is founded. First, the poverty of the people which encourages women to enter the sex business. Second, male tourists see women of colour as someone more willing and available. Third, the industry is supported by political and economic institutions and businesses which encourage men to travel to certain countries specifically to purchase the sexual services of local women [Pritchard and Morgan 2000: 888]. It is also suggested that men seek sexual service in the developing countries not only because it is cheaper, but because the commercial character of the interaction between the prostitute and the customer is somewhat diguised under tenderness, readiness to please, etc, on the part of the prostitute [Oppermann 1999: 255].

It must be noted that colonialism and militarism encouraged prostitution in many countries even before the modern international tourist appeared on the scene. In present times, however, sex tourism has become a mechanism through which the governments of these countries seek to further their national economic goals [Hall 1996: 270]. Scholars have pointed to the post-war development of the new international division of labour which radically reconstructed the economies of south-east Asia through their closer integration within the global economy. The influx of rural women to urban areas to support their families, the overall marginalisation of female participation in the labour market, their exclusion from the industrial sector, have been factors responsible for their entry into sex business [Shaw and Williams op cit: 91].

In Korea the ‘kisaeng’2 tourism is synonymous with Japanese oriented tourism prostitution. In 1985, there were an estimated 2,60,000 prostitutes in South Korea, the majority of whom came from economically backward rural areas. The Korean government even congratulated them for their “heroic patriotism”, for contributing towards the economic development of their country. Although women’s groups like the South Korea Women’s Church Alliance has strongly condemned the practice, the Korean government has chosen to ignore it so as not to spoil its economic relations with Japan [Hall op cit: 273, 274].

It is common knowledge that the promotion of sexual services is an important part of marketing Thailand as a tourist destination. It is estimated that there were between 5,00,000 and a million prostitutes in the early 1980s. Of course, not all prostitutes cater to sex tourists. Besides, many Thai women become “rented wives”, somewhat like the kisaeng of Korea, who accompany the tourists, particularly to Holland, Germany and Japan. A number of Filipino women are known to travel to Japan and Germany. Most of the female and child prostitutes in Thailand come from the poor north and north-eastern regions. Until the end of 1980s the government promoted sex tourism as a means to earn foreign exchange to the extent that ministers openly advocated tourism prostitution as a means of employment generation. In 1990s although prostitution for local customers was more prevalent, foreign-oriented prostitution was extremely important to Thailand’s accumulation of foreign capital.

Boonchu Rojanasathien, a former vice premier of Thailand and an internationally known banker, encouraged provincial governors of Thailand in 1980 to make their provinces more attractive to tourists and thereby create more jobs for the people. His appeal read as follows, “Within the next two years we need more money. Therefore I ask all governors to consider the natural scenery in your provinces, together with some form of entertainment that some of you might consider disgusting and shameful because they are forms of sexual entertainment that attract tourists. Such forms of entertainment should not be prohibited if only because you are morally fastidious. Yet explicit obscenities that may lead to damaging moral consequences should be avoided within a reasonable limit. We must do this because we have to consider jobs that will be created for the people” [quoted from Holden, Horlemann and Pfafflin 1983: 13].

There has been a weakening of the sex market in Thailand in recent years and interestingly, both external and internal factors are responsible for it. Growing public awareness of the AIDS crisis as well as the work of women’s protests are important. But changes in Japanese society such as the improved status of women in Japan, Leheny points out, and rapidly increasing number of Japanese women travelling abroad has put pressure on the government to change Thailand’s sex market image. In fact, given that women constitute an appreciably lucrative tourism market, since their spending patterns result in fewer leakages than men’s do, Japanese women represent the greater potentially profitable demand group. Tourism Authority of Thailand’s designation of 1992 as “Women’s Visit Thailand Year” signals such a development [Leheny 2003: 380].

In response to a growing phenomenon of sex tourism throughout Asia, a few students’ and women’s groups organised themselves against it. In 1973 the first demonstration took place in Seoul, Korea, where students held banners which said, “Our motherland should not be turned into a brothel for Japanese men.” In 1981, through his travel in south-east Asia, then prime minister Zenko Suzuki of Japan was surprised to be confronted with strong protest groups in Manila and Thailand. A protest letter prepared by 68 organisations in the Philippines said, “we would like to forget Japanese military imperialism. But now instead of military uniforms, the men come in business suits dominating Asia through a pernicious form of socio-economic imperialism which tramples on the Asian peoples’ right to human dignity” [O’Grady 1981: 39].

That racist and gender inequalities may be reinforced by tourism experience is shown by Crush and Wellings in the case of Lesotho and Swaziland. “Exposure to independent black African through the tourism experience, far from diluting racist stereotypes held by white South Africans, tends only to reinforce them. Thus blacks are cast in servile position, throughout the industry…black women are reduced to the level of sexual objects meant for the proclivities of white male South Africans…” [Crush and Wellings 1987: 103]. One of the most significant social impacts, the authors note, has been the obvious growth of prostitution in the two countries. An important factor in their analysis is the defining context of a regional political economy dominated by South America.

Not only women, but children, the most vulnerable section, too are involved in the sex service. In 1994, 61 End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Exploitation (ECPAT) provided the following estimates of children in the sex industry – 5,00,000 in Brazil, 4,00,000 in India, 2,00,000-8,50,000 in Thailand, 2,00,000 in Nepal.3

Cheap airfares, the opening of countries once closed because of war or other political reasons, and the advent of the internet have provided opportunities for tourist looking for underage sex partners. In the last few years paedophilia appears to have increased substantially or at least more information seems to be available now. In the case of child sexual abuse, class, and race factors seem to be more important than gender. Young boys are as much victimised as young girls. For example, sexual abuse of young boys is more common in Sri Lanka, while more young girls are abused in India. Modern gadgets like sophisticated cameras and video filming equipment are some of the aids used by the offenders, who are generally white men, although women are also involved.

It is reported that international networks of child sex abusers is rapidly increasing. They share information on the “safest” places for child abuse in the world. There is also a huge market for child pornography on the internet. India and other south Asian countries are slowly replacing south-east Asia as the venue of choice for sex tourism given that there are fewer legislations against child abuse in these countries. Also, because European tourists believe that AIDS is not as rampant among children in India. A large number of tourists are seeking out India, the main destination being Goa precisely because of the lax legal and security measures there. They know that it is easy to escape the local administration as well as the law. Since Bangkok has become “too hot” for European paedophiles, they have turned to Goa and Kerala [Virani 2000: 88].

According to Nishita Desai (2001) of Child Rights Goa (CRG), Goa is in danger of becoming a destination for sex tourism. Although Goans themselves like to deny it but it is well known that not only migrant women but Goan women too are involved in sex business. Women and girls are supplied through the hotels, lodges, restaurants to domestic and foreign tourists. They may also accompany the man out of the state for short periods. Majority of the prostitutes are from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, few from Nepal, Bangladesh, West Bengal, and even countries of the former Soviet Union. Although not entirely a product of tourism, prostitution has got a boost from increased tourism. Studies show that while sexual exploitation of children may have existed prior to tourism in Goa, the number has risen due to domestic and foreign tourism. Though migrant children are the worst victims of sexual abuse, local children are also lured by paedophiles under the guise of providing “better opportunities” [Desai ibid: 14]. The Washington Times in an issue referred to Goa beaches as particularly favoured by tourists from Europe, America, Australia, Japan and reported that it was set to rival Bangkok in the child sex tourism (p 17).

The migrants are usually from the drought-prone regions of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. While the adult migrant men are engaged in construction, stone quarrying or scrap collection work, women and children often work selling trinkets, handicraft items, fruits, nuts, soft drinks to tourists on the beaches. Many work as masseurs, and come into contact with “friendly” tourists who give them money and gifts in return for sexual favours. Between 1984 and 1991 Freddie Peats ran a children’s home, taking in orphaned boys and those from broken homes and sexually abusing them. Peats also used the boys in the production of pornography and prostituted them to foreign paedophiles. He was convicted, but many like him have managed to escape the law. Thanks, however, to the efforts of some organisations like Child Rights Goa and several citizen’s groups the government has woken up to the prevalence of paedophilia in Goa, and begun to take action against it.

An important point has been raised by Davidson and Taylor with regard to the westerner’s desire for sexual contact with local adults and children. It is structured, according to them, by their “racist constructions of the exotic and the erotic “primitive”, while their racist assumptions about cultural “difference” are used to justify and defend their sexually exploitative acts. At the same time, for most Goans the fact that the prostituted women and children are primarily migrants, and “so the ‘Other’, makes their fate a matter of indifference” [Davidson and Taylor 1996: 29]. Neither the Goan people nor the government regard the problem as serious simply because “outsiders are involved in it”, who “spoil the name of Goa”. The solution, therefore, is “to throw them out of the state”.

Flavia Agnes puts it in the wider context of exploitative global system, when she writes, “In the global trade-offs, while India is already marked as a place for the supply of cheap labour, lax environmental safety laws and the under-the-table dealings, will it now have another plus – a sex tourism attraction? Will the poverty ridden, malnourished children, the most vulnerable segment of our population, become its fodder, while the state machinery is caught slumbering?” [Agnes 2004: 19]. It is, however, also important to note that not only the exploitative world system, but the unequal gendered societies of both the first and third worlds, is the context in which gendered differences and bias in tourism can be understood. It is significant that the white male tourists alone do not demonstrate their sexual power over the stereotypical “passive”, “traditional”, submissive coloured women, but coloured men also focus their gaze on the “bikiniclad”, white women. The object of tourism consumption, in both instances, is the female body. It is common knowledge, for example, that Indian men like to visit Goa for voyeuristic purposes, to ogle at the scantily dressed women, both Goan and foreigners, believed to be “free”, “fun-loving”, “permissive” and “easily available”.

For Enloe, tourism is profoundly gendered, based on the ideas of masculinity and femininity in the societies of departure and destination. “The very structure of international tourism needs patriarchy to survive” [Swain 1995: 255]. Crucial to this discussion is the gender bias in the creation of tourism images and the “interrelationship” between the language of patriarchy and (hetro) sexuality and language of tourism” [Pritchard and Morgan op cit: 884].

Tourism Images

Pritchard and Morgan (2000) argue, on the basis of analysis of brochures and advertisements, that language and imagery of tourism promotional material “privileges the male, heterosexual gaze above all others”. Studies, although few on the subject, note that tourism brochure representation of men tend to be associated with action, power, ownership, while representations of women tend to be associated with passivity, availability and being owned. They point out that tourism advertising and the myths and fantasies promoted by tourism marketing are dependent upon shared conceptions of gender, sexuality and gender relations [Pritchard and Morgan op cit: 889).

Like advertising images in general, tourism advertising images also invariably represent the male view. The masculine and feminine attributes are defined largely as the adventurous, strong, “macho” man, and the passive, sensuous, submissive woman. The tourism advertising material is replete with the images of the “erotic” and the “exotic” woman who lights up the fantasy world of the tourist. For example, Caribbean women are presented in tourism literature as sexual mulattoes with free time to enjoy the beaches and the male visitor. The dominant image of women in the tourism generating countries is that of “scantily clad young women in exotic surroundings appealing to the fantasies of middle aged businessmen who are feeling threatened by the improvement of women in the North (ibid:891). In China, the government promotes ethnic tourism using exotic images of women dressed in traditional ethnic dress even though they have gained some measure of economic independence through tourism enterprise, they remain “exoticised female images” [Kinnaird et al op cit: 18]. The dominant image of women in tourism material in India is that of young women, traditionally dressed in every finery, submissively welcoming the tourists with folded hands. In contrast, the rural/tribal women are shown as both erotic and exotic. In all these instances women are represented as the object of men’s desire, of male tourist consumption.

In most cases the sexual image is quite explicit. As for example, “Thailand is a world full of extremes, and the possibilities are limitless. Anything goes in this exotic country, especially when it comes to girls” [Shaw and Williams op cit: 90]. Or “Vietnam awaits you”… and “is as alluring as ever”. Or “India awaits you…the timeless mystery and beauty of India has been waiting for you for 5,000 years. She is an indescribable and unforgettable land only by visiting the country can the truth be experienced… Everything you desire can be found in India…every whim will be gratified” [cited in Pritchard and Morgan op cit: 897]. A Frankfurt advertisement stated “Asian women are without desire for emancipation, but full of warm sensuality and the softness of velvet” [Kinnaird and Hall op cit: 28]. South-east Asian airlines such as Thai Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific have portrayed “submissive” Asian women in their tourism promotional material. Singapore Airlines ran a campaign of “Singapore Girl – you are a great way to fly” [Hall 1996 op cit: 268]. A recent advertisement which was hastily withdrawn said, “Go Goa, everything included”.

Not only women, even landscapes, places, are exoticised and sexualised, imbued with feminine attributes, meant to attract and gratify the male gaze. The motive of the “virgin” beach is the most commonly used. For example, “Niagra is ‘seductively restless’ and ‘tries to win your heart with her beauty’”. Jamaica is “tempting” and “innocent”, “sensuous”, “seductive”. Fiji offers “waterfalls tumbling through virgin forests”; Seychelles offers “seas that were made for pleasure”; Tahiti is called “The Island of love”. Brochures of important travel and tour agencies in Germany represent India as “exotic”, “enchanting/magical”, “colourful”, of “abundant beauty”, “fairy tale scenes”, “romantic”, “India awaits you as an event of colours”,4 all are images with gender undertones.

In the brochures of department of tourism, government of Goa, Goa is imbued with feminine qualities. It is described as “irresistible”; with “captivating landscape”; “Goa beckons with its sheer natural beauty”; “the land of dreams dresses herself for yet another occasion. Life here blooms and surrenders to the reminiscent beauty. Watch the tall palm trees sway in the cool breeze, while you submit your mind to the serene hinterland of Goa. Experience the magic”; “Experience and explore a world of infinite possibilities”; “the seductive Goan coast is sprinkled with excitement. …All of this adrenalin rush under the same sun”. Goa is sold for the “highly playful spirit on the Goan beaches”. The image of a “seductive”, “beautiful”, “magical”, “captivating”, “mesmerising”, “enchanting”, “charming”, place/landscape waiting for the visitor quite clearly represent a masculinist view.

Hedonism and Hospitality

In order to understand the gendered, sexualised, character of tourism processes, it is useful in my view to examine two important ideas, pleasure, and hospitality, which are central to tourism activity. Despite the wide range of tourist motivations it cannot be denied that tourism is about holidays, about unrestrained pleasure. As Urry points out, “it is about consuming goods and services which are in some sense unnecessary. They are consumed because they supposedly generate pleasurable experiences which are different from those typically encountered in everyday life…to gaze upon or view a set of different scenes, of landscapes or townscapes which are out of the ordinary” [Urry op cit: 1].

The term “hedonism” is often used to describe touristic activity. To be a tourist is to withdraw, temporarily, from everyday social obligations. Instead of duty and structure, one has freedom and carefree fun, including hedonistic regression to drugs and nude sun bathing [Crick op cit: 327]. And sex may be seen as a part of the relaxation, conspicuous spending, having fun, letting go and experiencing the “different”. Given that the tourist behaviour is relatively freer and unconstrained by norms at home, sexual liberties may be taken without serious consequences. In fact, behaviour which may not be acceptable at home, is totally acceptable and even expected while holidaying. Crick’s suggestion is useful that the tourists’ world is constructed of many inversions

– from work to play, normal morality to sexuality, conspicuous spending rather than saving, freedom rather than structure and indulgence rather than responsibilty” [Crick op cit: 332].

Concepts of “liminal”, liminoid” and “liminoidal” have been developed and used to understand the inversionary behaviours of tourists. “Once in a liminoidal state individuals’ behaviours are altered to a anti-structure…or antithesis of their home environment.” It allows individuals the freedom to experience that what is not acceptable in the home society, or to “enact the inversionary behaviours of the antistructure” [Currie 1997: 894]. Lett’s investigation of sexual behaviour of individuals on holiday led him to conclude that during holiday periods tourists acquire a sexual licence allowing them to behave contrary to their normal behaviour [cited in Currie ibid: 89].

Relaxation of codes in respect to food, dress, liquor, and even sex during vacations is intrinsic to tourism. Or else what is the point of getting away? The unequal power relations between the tourist generating and destination countries, and between the sexes, especially the white tourists and the coloured locals, both men and women, only encourage this behaviour. On the other side, the destination countries, in their attempt to promote tourism, and development, sell an image of themselves as ready to provide all kinds of services, including sexual service to the tourist. A discourse of “hospitality” is constructed to attract tourists, both domestic and foreign but especially the latter, with the promise to satisfy every whim/need/desire. Goa for example, is projected as “a perfect host”, where “hospitality is an established tradition” and where people are “friendly and extremely happy-go-lucky”. The image of the submissive, smiling Indian woman ready to serve every need of the tourist is ubiquitous.

Underlying all tourism promotion efforts, everywhere in the world, is the impression created that the tourist is more than welcome in the place of destination. The offer of friendliness and hospitality is carried to an absurd extent in a Scottish tourism advertisement, for example, “Come look under our kilt. We are friendlier than you think.” It is especially so in the Asian countries where there is said to be a tradition of warmth, friendliness and hospitality.

However, the use of the term hospitality itself in the tourism discourse is open to question. In anthropology, hospitality denotes caring for a stranger in order to establish a relation based on reciprocity and exchange. In the context of introduction of financial transaction within the hospitality nexus, as Andrews observes, principles of obligations and reciprocity are no longer existent. Therefore, the financial transaction which characterises the nexus between the tourist and the local people, euphemistically called “guests” and “hosts”, remove the real motives behind hospitality [Andrews 2000: 236, 237].

Terms like “hospitality”, “guest” and “host”, create an aura of a personalised relationship between equals (with positive connotations) around what is a highly commercialised and impersonal interaction. It is also significant that the relationship between the “guest” and “host” is an unequal one, given that the latter occupies a higher financial position in purchasing goods and services (ibid: 236). But a discussion of these terms in anthropological and sociological literature on tourism is not the concern of the present paper.


I have attempted to show that tourism processes like other processes and relations in society are gendered. The gender bias is built into the discourse of tourism practices, images, and activities, which, by and large, privileges the male viewpoint. Although this viewpoint still dominates, it is not totally unchallenged. Researchers, academics, social activists have questioned the hegemonic male view of tourism at different levels, although their voice is still weak. In the light of the fact that tourism processes are expanding rapidly in the fast globalising world, there is a need to strengthen these voices.

Organisations and womens’ groups have taken up the issue of prostitution in some countries. In Goa there has been an organised protest. The Jagrut Goenkaranchi Fauz (JGF), Children’s Rights in Goa (CRG), Bailancho Saad, Annaya Rahit Zindagi (ARZ), has been protesting against prostitution and paedophilia since the 1980s. The JGF was formed, in their own words, to protect the Goan population from the threats posed by “an indiscriminate, immoral tourism policy being promoted by the government. In which our coastal niches are being expropriated and handed over to luxury tourism” [Mayrhofer 1997: 84].

Bailancho Saad has protested against tourism related prostitution and the vulgarised image of Goan people projected by tourism advertisements. Goa is shown as a land of “wine, women and song”. The tourism department and big hoteliers have used bikini clad women in their advertisements and brochures to woo tourists. With the increasing demand for sun, sea and sex, these sexist advertisements have seriously distorted the image of women in Goa and conveyed the message of their easy availability. This in turn has led to increasing sexual harassment of women in Goa, both local and foreign [Saad Publication 1994].

The church in Goa, as in other parts of the world, has openly criticised tourism-related developments. It points out that the selfrespecting local people, earlier employed as farmers, toddy tappers, fishermen are being employed in the hotel industries “in servile positions”. “Their wives and daughters become prostitutes or masseuses; their children become touts, pimps or errand boys” (ibid: 85). Churches from Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean have expressed concern over tourism from the first to the third world countries. The World Council of churches has been extremely critical of the “negative effects of rich tourism in poor countries” [O’Grandy op cit: XIII].

It must be noted that tourism-related practices have not received enough critical attention by political organisations including womens’ groups in India and in many other parts of the world. This is so primarily because the ideology which regards tourism as a means to development in the developing countries continues to dominate. Besides, not enough information is available on effects of tourism, given the dynamics of power relations between the developing and developed countries and within the developing countries. Much more study, research and activism is necessary if these processes are to be understood and regulated. The challenge to this very complex phenomenon must come at the local and global levels. For example, struggle to stop sex tourism must be undertaken not only in countries where it occurs, but also in countries from where the offenders come. A demand for greater participation of local people in tourism planning and development must appear in the agenda of womens’ movements everywhere, if the rights and interests of people in tourist destinations especially the third world are to be protected in the long run; and if they are to share equally in the benefits that result from tourism. Given that the fastest growing destinations are in the third world countries, that currently about 30 per cent of all international tourist arrivals are in them, a great deal of caution in the management of tourism has to be exercised by the governments and people of these countries, so that some regions and people do not degrade themselves for the pleasure of others.




[Paper presented at the conference on Globalisation and the Womens’ Movement in India, organised by Centre for Women’s Development Studies, Delhi, January 20 to 22, 2005.]

1 Tourism traffic to Goa has risen phenomenally from approximately two

lakh tourists in 1975 to 14.07 lakh in 2001 of which domestic tourists

account for 11.47 lakhs and foreign tourists for 2.60 lakhs. Goa’s income

from tourism in foreign exchange has gone up from Rs 32.64 crore in 1986

87 to approximately Rs 600 crore in 2001 which represents a rise of about

25 per cent every year. It is estimated that 20 per cent of its population

earn their livelihood, directly and indirectly, from tourism activities (Statistics

2004, Department of Tourism, Government of Goa, Panaji). 2 Kisaeng act as companions to Japanese businessmen and travel with them

during their visit to Korea. Their role is regarded as an integral component

of the conduct of Japanese business overseas and may be linked to a

contemporary equivalent of the “comfort women” role that Korean women

were forced to take during second world war. Kisaeng tourism is still a

major factor in attracting Japanese male tourists to Korea. 3 Figures are available at 4 Collected from brochures of travel and tour agencies in Germany, including

Gebeco, Studiosus, Meier’s Weltreisen, Thomas Cook, Dertour, for 2003

and 2004.


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